Emigrate to Iraq

Emigrate to Iraq
Emigrating to Iraq rather than from Iraq is a strange idea. With the security situation and frequent violence would anyone consider moving from their current country to Iraq?

Immigration into Iraq was rare before the 1970s, but with the rise of oil prices and increasing oil exports along with increasing private and public expenditure in the mid 1970s a market for foreign labour was created. The workers who moved to Iraq were mainly Egyptian and before the Gulf War their numbers may have been as high as 1,600,000. Many Egyptians also worked in the public sector during the Iran-Iraq war, filling the positions left vacant by Iraqis who had gone to fight on the frontline.

Repression under Saddam’s regime led many Iraqis from the south to migrate to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Whilst in the north many Kurdish people were forced to resettle in the south in order to weaken support for the Kurdish rebels. Many Kurds also fled abroad, mainly to Turkey or Iran. Since the Iraq war many Iraqis have migrated to neighbouring countries or to the west to escape the violence and chaos.

Foreign nationals who wish to enter Iraq for any purpose including leisure, employment, investment or permanent residency must obtain a visa from the Iraqi Embassy or Consulate in their current country of residence. There are special laws that cover the rights of foreign nationals visiting Iraq and failure to comply with them can lead to deportation. Foreigners may also obtain a residence permit which allows them to stay in the country for up to 8 years. After that they must request a residence extension.

Despite the problems in Iraq not all Iraqis are that keen to leave. Reports in the American press have cited America’s recent financial problems as the reason for some Iraqis choosing to say in Iraq rather than immigrate to the USA. Although the figures for unemployment are higher in Iraq than they are in America many Iraqis do own their homes and they are eligible for monthly food rations. According to the Los Angeles Times stores, restaurants, parks and even nightclubs are opening in Iraq. Violence still occurs, but it has been decreasing. On the other hand many Iraqis have struggled in America due to the lack of support and poor job prospects. Many face homelessness as the economy founders. The government’s refugee-assistance programme is in crisis and is failing to meet even its most basic mandate of serving and protecting refugees.

Of course there are those who point out that Iraq despite its recent history has a lot going for it. It has beautiful weather, amazing scenery and a wonderful history. Many of the people are decent and hard-working and want their country to be restored to its former glory. The thinking goes that buying property in a place that few would currently touch means that you can get it at a low price and then reap the returns when the situation improves. In recent years a lot of money has been pumped into certain parts of the country and for the would-be immigrant to Iraq there are websites on the internet offering Iraqi property for sale. In the Kurdish north the American village has been built near Erbil not far from the international airport. The village offers spectacular views of the Kurdish mountains and is completely self sufficient. It offers private security, wireless high speed internet, a restaurant, waste water collection and treatment system, water supply, 24-hour electricity and a commercial centre. A four-bedroom property costs around £151,000, far lower than a similar property would cost in the UK. However, whether this would be enough to attract people to Iraq is another question. Gated communities may sound very nice, shielding residents from the realities of everyday life, but is living in one really all that great? Also unless you are going to live and work within the community you will have to venture out into the real world. Part of the attraction of going to a new country is mixing with the locals and learning about their culture, something that would be difficult to do in a gated community.

Business prospects are said to be good in the area and the government is looking for people who are willing to invest. The Economist, however, paints a less rosy picture. Under Saddam Hussein the state controlled everything and although the Americans have tried to kick start a private sector it has largely failed to take root. Their biggest problem was attracting foreign investors who were wary despite the security, offices, food and accommodation that the Americans offered in Baghdad’s green zone. There have been a few notable successes, but amongst investors the country is still considered too risky and only time will tell if the early investors will reap the profits or simply be a cautionary tale.

Surprising as it might seem there have been attempts to get people to either return to Iraq or to settle in the country. Many in the Arab world and beyond were surprised when the magazine Israel-Kurd was recently launched. When its second edition appeared on 22nd July it was greeted with astonishment. Israel-Kurd has 50 pages all of which are in the official language of the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, Kurdish. The magazine appears to be aimed at improving relations between Israel and Iraqi-Kurdistan. The editors are particularly interested in the history of Kurdish Jews who emigrated from Iraqi-Kurdistan to Israel in 1948. Such Jews would have the right to return to their country of origin. Farhad Amwni who is the leader of the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists views the magazine as proof that freedom of the press is a reality.

Others also see the magazine as an important step in the improvement of freedom of expression, but just how well the magazine will do remains to be seen. Meanwhile although it is claimed that the editor of the magazine is impartial there are political ramifications to the magazine, Kurdish Iraq has been increasingly positioning itself between the Arab World and Israel. Not surprisingly the magazine has aroused the wrath of conservative Muslims, but the editor Dawood Baghestani believes that his publication could help the cause of the Palestinians. According to him there are 1.5 million Jews in Israel who are there because they were forced to flee from Arab lands. If these people could return safely to their land of origin this would make more land available thus allowing the Palestinians to also return to their lands.